Orville Higgins | Jamaica's football is alive and well
If you were to follow the opinions of the average football fan in Jamaica and believe the general rantings of those sports journalists posing as 'experts' in local media, you may well come away with the perception that Jamaica's football is at its lowest-ever ebb. With all the doom and gloom being bandied about, one could be forgiven for thinking that our local football programme is on life support and badly in need of a life-saving operation. This prevailing concept that Jamaica is scraping rock bottom with our football is the reason why one man has steadfastly refused to allow his son to play for the national team unless he is given the job of 'resurrecting' our football from the grave!
I have long argued that one of our problems as Jamaicans is that we are always too irrational when we discuss topics to which we are emotionally connected. A lot of what passes for objective football discussion in Jamaica is nothing but overhyped drivel without any serious regard to what is real. A lot of the discussions concerning Jamaica's football on radio and TV, in social media, and by the common man is simply nonsense. Many of our sports broadcasters, who should be able to help the common man to think and analyse clearly, are themselves unable to reason clearly because of their own emotional bias.
Allow me here to introduce a simple set of facts. At last check, Jamaica was ranked 49th in world football. With more than 200 countries playing football in the world, I don't see how being in the top 25 per cent can be seen to be the cause of so much criticism. Most of us agree that the height of our football programme was in the mid- to late '90s when we qualified for France '98. During those halcyon days, we never once made it to a Gold Cup final, which is the biggest tournament that we are involved in on a regular basis, and should be - along with World Cup Qualifiers - the acid test of our standards, relative to other CONCACAF nations. Lest we forget, Jamaica has been to the last two Gold Cup finals. In 2015, the team performed so well that it evoked memories and comparisons of that epic squad from the 1998 campaign.
In the 2017 edition, we got to the final with a squad of predominantly Jamaica-born players. So no one can claim that we did it by shopping for some "done English ballaz".
In the process of qualifying for those two Gold Cup finals, we did things we had never done before. We beat Mexico and the USA for the first time outside of Jamaican soil. We demonstrated in those two tournaments that we had the ability to put together a fully 'Jamaican' squad, coached by a bona fide 'yard man' who could match strides with the best in the region.
I go further. At last check, we were ranked fourth in CONCACAF - behind the big three of USA, Mexico, and Costa Rica - and we were the top country in the Caribbean. Given these facts, I am at a loss to understand why people are behaving like Jamaica's football is free-falling into nothingness. It is simply not true! The facts are telling us that we are in a relatively healthy state. Indeed, if we go by the Gold Cup results in the last two tournaments, I could argue that our football is at an all-time high!
The problem is that we have been caught up in the trap of using World Cup Qualifiers as our ONLY yardstick to measure quality. That is a serious mistake. If we go by that logic, then the nation's football programme, prior to 1998, was in a perpetual state of despair. The irony is that a lot of who 'running off dem mouth' how World Cup qualification is the ultimate test of substandard quality in our football, are the same ones who will tell you that our best football was being played in the '70s and '80s when going to the World Cup then was tantamount to dreaming about winning the lotto! If that is not arguing illogically, then I do not know what is!
None of this means that I am not disappointed that we haven't qualified for any World Cup since 1998. I want to watch the Reggae Boyz at the big dance like anybody else. The difference with me is that I am not that closed-minded to believe that a lack of qualification means that our football is dying. There are many things in football that can be improved, but of which aspect of Jamaican life can that not be said? The truth is, football in Jamaica is not as bad as we are making it out to be.